Issue How full is the glass?

As told by Jason Mckeown

A year on from joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes’ target of City achieving back-to-back promotions, the more realistic vision of Championship within five years was revealed by fellow Chairman Mark Lawn at the Bradford City Supporters Trust Fans Forum last night. Call it lack of ambition if you will – though a certain mega rich East Midlands club with a Swedish Director of Football has the same stated goal – but Lawn’s ambition and tone was in keeping with the low-key but determined attitude that is emanating from the club right down to the players who are impressing in pre-season friendlies.

Like any sensible business in these credit crunch times, a cautious but reasoned picture of the health of the club was presented from Lawn, Operations Director Dave Baldwin and manager Stuart McCall. Fans present had the opportunity to ask questions to all three and, though the financial restrictions the club must operate under can seemingly be depressing to ponder too much about – that same rich East Midlands club pay just £20k a year to rent their stadium compared to the huge overheads of playing at Valley Parade – the fact those charged with finding the answers can still remain cautiously upbeat is something more City fans would do well to emulate. A quick scan of message boards shows some present have typically twisted the words of Stuart and Lawn and come to conclusions that are based on fantasy to tell others it’s all doom and gloom, oddly enough not voicing their concerns or grumbles at the time. As Lawn said at one point, “too often Bradfordians see the glass as half empty, maybe this season it’s time to look at it as half full.”

Much of the interest was on the football side of matters and what Stuart had to stay. He spoke of his transfer targets and that bringing in a keeper and at least one midfield on a season-long loan was looking increasingly like the route he would go, quickly pointing to the success of Scott Loach, Dean Furman, Nicky Law and Steve Jones to illustrate that this is not something to be fearful about. What’s the difference between signing a player on a season long loan and someone on a one year contract, he pondered. With visible frustration at the number of targets he’s lost out on this close season, particularly to Oldham, he remained hopeful more players would become available for permanent transfer over the next few weeks. James Hanson has been offered a contract.

Of those who had gone, he played down rumours of dressing room fallings out being behind the departure of Rhys Evans and Barry Conlon, explaining that the reason Matt Clarke and Conlon had been dropped against Exeter was simply because they stayed up late watching the Champions League Final on a Wednesday and missed training on the Thursday. Conlon just needed a fresh challenge and Paul Mullin looked a good signing with a host of other League Two clubs, including Rochdale and Shrewsbury, interested in him at the time. Evans left simply due to wages, Kyle Nix was someone he admired but who he couldn’t find a place in the team for ahead of others. He lacked a bit of pace and height, and wasn’t best suited to the 4-4-2 formation Stuart prefers. Paul Arnison was decent going forward but not the best defensively, and had been caught out by the division’s better wingers. The biggest shock of the evening was that no one asked about Bower.

Stuart stuck up for Joe Colbeck over the contract dispute, but did concede when he first heard the winger had rejected the deal he angrily told him not to come back to the club before calming down and offering an olive branch. He also stuck up for Chris Brandon when one fan asked why Brandon, as a City fan, won’t take a pay cut. He hopes Brandon can be a big player this season, though it’s still uncertain if he will stay. Omar Daley is recovering well in Jamaica, and has shown great mental determination. He did warn fans not to expect too much from him too soon, words that will probably be ignored by some if he struggles at first.

In terms of the failings of last season, Stuart didn’t want to dwell too much on them but suggested playing too attacking away from home cost the team with the high number of defeats on the road. In fitting with the more guarded outlook for the season ahead, Stuart talked about being more prepared to settle for a point in away games. Nothing to do with playing negative formations, but being more prepared to see out the game if need by rather than go too cavalier and be defeated. The defenders job will be too defend, rather than play the ball out the back as was seen last season. He acknowledged Clarke’s distribution wasn’t the best, but praised his defensive qualities.

Stuart was asked about his threat to walk away and what kept him at the club and referred to the number of positive emails he received and feeling he didn’t want to walk away with the budget being slashed. What about the zombie state he got into last season, and will he do when the going gets tough this season? Stuart didn’t try to pretend he knew the answer now and won’t get down again, speaking about how much he cares and how everything on the pitch is his responsibility. He was advised by other managers not to get too high with the highs and too low with the lows, but conceded that’s easy with the highs but more difficult with the lows.

Mark Lawn talked about the finances and stadium situation. He’d made an offer to Gordon Gibb for the stadium but it had been rejected, Gibb wants a high amount for it – more than he originally paid. Lawn appeared to be biting his tongue on this issue, but on top of the rent payments Gibb’s been receiving the last few years, the former Chairman is clearly hoping for a huge profit and is certainly not going to go out of his way to the club. Odsal was downplayed a little, but he spoke of another possibility that no one else has considered. No doubt we’ll discover more soon.

On the money for Fabian Delph, Lawn revealed last season the club had budgeted for either promotion or Leeds selling Delph – neither of which happened. It’s here that the biggest confusion of the night reigned and already some fans are saying we’ve spent the money for Delph. This is a totally distorted view – the club had a shortfall in budget which its now had to revise for this season, as we’ve seen with player departures. If City had not been promoted and Delph sold, the wage budget could have been the same this season. The money from Delph, if and when he goes, can still benefit the club and, if it’s over a certain amount, Stuart will be allowed to make an extra loan signing. Those supporters muttering “we’ve already spent the Delph money, the club is a shambles” are very much supping from those half empty glasses.

The always impressive Dave Baldwin talked about sponsorship and commercial activities. Apart from a drop in the banqueting facilities, blamed on the credit crunch, and needing to tie up a sponsor for the Midland Road stand, the club is bringing in a lot of revenue from its off the field activities – more so than season ticket money. The club is working hard to increase the fanbase, and Baldwin confirmed they will continue to try season ticket offers as long as around 10,000 supporters take it up every season. The new appointment of the man from Morrisons is something Baldwin expects to have a positive impact on the club.

So as we left into the grey summer night with some fans seemingly determined to feel negative, the tough but honest assessment of where the club is going left me at least feeling more positive about the season ahead. Bradford City knows its limitations, is being run by people who genuinely care and who, crucially, take a positive approach to the issues ahead. As Mark Lawn said, “I’m a businessman, business is about problem solving.”

Of all the lessons of the last two seasons, it’s clear the club isn’t putting its eggs in one basket and working to promotion or bust this season. This time next year the club may still be in League Two, but if the hardwork continues the vision of Championship football by 2014 will still be on track.